Sunday, 4 December 2011

Festive season begins

Christmas is well and truly upon us. Well, it has been since the department stores unpacked their annual Christmas shops (August) but I like to be old-fashioned and celebrate the festival for just one month of the year.

On Saturday we took a trip to the local market to pick out this year's tree. They wrapped him in some ribbon to hold his arms in for the journey home, and then we were off. Fortunately Kath had planned ahead and brought along some guy she knows to do the hard work. Thanks Greg!

Homeward bound

Monday, 28 November 2011

It's been an entire leap year cycle

I've now lived in London for four whole years. That's rapidly approaching five winters; now two New Zealand elections; one milestone birthday and three regular ones; two London Christmases, and two provincial ones; and one really long phone hacking scandal.

It's cliche I know, but where have the last four years gone? I could have completed a PhD in that time. And some.

I certainly have a lot more stuff now than the small wheelie suitcase and weekend bag I came with. Our fridge is graced with a collection of exotic tourist magnets, and I've pretty much memorised the major tube lines and important stops. But despite all of this, I still wonder exactly how the last 48 months could have gone quite so quickly.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Spending time with food

There's not much I like more than filling the kitchen with ingredients and spending a Saturday afternoon creating stuff.

The smallest of things please me. A bunch of bright red tomatoes still clutching frantically to the vine; the smell of red wine vinegar, brown sugar, and red onions slow cooking; and the way pastry feels between my fingers when I squeeze it into a ball.

On a Sunday, I gather together some small change, a bag or two, and head to the farmers' market. Just down the road, and through the village, it stands in the playground of a school every Sunday. There I'll decide on my soup for the week, getting enough ingredients for a large batch which will see me right through to Tuesday. This week it's carrot.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Back to the Bramwell roots

A few months back, a very special auntie came to visit. After a week of work (me) and dining out at fabulous restaurants (auntie) we boarded a train bound for the North East. At Newcastle train station there was a lovely Geordie lad waiting for us. With a lovely Geordie hire car.

And so our adventure began.

Our destination was a little village called Garrigill. The cradle of Bramwell civilisation.

In our hire car, we drove. Across the moorish landscape, winding through teeny villages that were barely there, until we came to Garrigill.

In the brilliant sunshine and passing sudden rain showers, we walked amongst the knee-high wet grass and wonky gravestones, straining to see a Bramwell. To no avail. But the inside of the church gave us two who had served in the world wars.

We left pleased that our lead mining ancestors had originated in such a pretty village (and not neighbouring Nenthead which was a bit dire), tucked into a corner of Cumbrian countryside.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

One step closer

This week I managed to squeeze out a 5,000 word research proposal. On reflection, it all happened in such a blur, I don't quite remember how it came together. But fortunately, I submitted something that, in a haze of weariness seemed to be somewhat 'on topic'.

This moment signified the end of another paper towards the Masters. All going to plan it's just one more paper and four more months now.

What's next after that I wonder......

Sunday, 2 October 2011

She's dreamin'

I'm not sure how it works for other people, but night time for me is an opportunity for my sub-conscious to run wild. It likes to use its entire toolkit of imagery, to release my deepest thoughts, feelings, and sometimes fears to the rest of my brain.

For months after visiting the Cayman Islands, I had a reoccurring dream of moving to a tropical island. All my friends would be there, waiting for me. Mostly the dreams were about me deciding where on the island I was going to live, and what kind of work I wanted to be doing. It was always sunny and the water was crystal clear. I'd wake with an overwhelming feeling of calm, and the obvious desire to immediately move to a white sanded beach.

But, just as quickly as they began, the dreams stopped a few months ago.

During the working week, I spend most of my dreaming time focused on clients and projects. This makes me feel incredibly dull. It's bad enough that I spend my working days concerned with action planning, surveys, analysis and project milestones, but it's horrifying to think that that's where my brain likes to spend its downtime.

I also worry that my sub-conscious has serious doubts about the depth of my intelligence, because a lot of the time, it prefers to make any messages it chooses to send me, as blatant as possible.

As my psychotherapist-in-training housemate said to me, last night's dream was one where no dream analysis book was required.

I was on holiday with a bunch of friends, staying at a series of Japanese-style hotels, with futons and tatami flooring. Every night we'd lay out the futons, and every night all of my friends would go to sleep in their respective pairings, except for me, who would always miss out on a futon, and would be left to lie on a pillow of folded clothing, at everyone else's feet.

I spend enough of my waking time battling with these sorts of insecurities, I don't want to wake up at 6am on a Sunday morning in a cold 'will be single forever' sweat. Bring back the tropical island dreams I say.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Annual onion marmalade making session

Take four massive onions from the farmers' market just down the road....

Chop 'em up with a big chef's knife

Throw into your biggest pan...

Cover in brown sugar, red wine, some thyme and butter. Then cook for a reaaaally long time until syrupy.

Pop in some cute wee jars you've got left over from last year's batch and offer up to happy housemates as a delicious topping for delights like bangers & mash, cheese & crackers, or perhaps a slice or two of beef.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Autumn in London

Autumn coat and boots

Yellowing tree

6.30pm sunset

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Dissertation location #1

In an attempt to amass all the motivation I have, and reduce the possibilities for distraction (laundry, sleep, food, tidying, the entire Internet) I'm taking my dissertation on the road.

Yesterday I kept it local. Le Petit Boulanger is about five minutes from my house and has a wonderful collection of sweet-speaking French staff, and a couple of bakers working at their big stainless steel bench, about one metre behind the till.

The coffee is good, and the bread is chewy and crusty, just as it should be. In between my abstract, introduction and an article or two, I got the joy of watching the constant stream of locals coming, eating, and going again.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The weekly 'Hansel' moment

There's a long, and slightly hazy story as to why this is named after a Grimms' fairytale character, but there was a fair bit of wine involved, so I'm not going to attempt to re-tell it. Let me just say that it was something to do with an old woman called Gretel, socks, trainers and a skirt, maybe some body waxing, and her still quite definitely living life to the fullest.

Anyway, from a slightly drunken work ladies' night out, we constructed the weekly Hansel moment. This is the occurrence or happening in the past week that has made your week a tiny bit special. Even if you've had a week of missing the bus every morning, battling with more monstrous than usual egos at work, all the window envelopes arriving at once, and you spill red wine on your favourite white top; the Hansel moment is the one reason why you don't want this week to be erased from your memory. One thing that has been a move forward, or a first for you; a light in the dark.

This week my Hansel moment was making my first ethics committee application for my dissertation research. For a moment there, I felt like a proper, grown-up researcher.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The tide quickly turns

Usually, on this side of the world, summer tends to slowly step backwards, out the gate, quietly shutting it behind her, before disappearing gracefully into the distance. This year however, she turned sharply on her heel and bolted.

Even though it's the first few days of September, the morning air is chilled, and the forecast temperatures are very definitely in their teens.

I have to say, I feel a bit ripped off really. I've spend a large portion of this so-called 'summer' indoors, working or studying. And due to poor life project management, I've not been on holiday to somewhere that actually has a summer.

But there's no point in mourning a summer lost. There are plenty of nice things about autumn which must be celebrated. Chutney making, 'crafternoons', hot yoga which keeps you warm all evening, our annual Halloween party; and walks home when no one is watching, meaning you can kick the leaves so high they rain down on you.

I might even try and take a holiday this season.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

New wheels

After many months of consideration, I've gone and bought myself a bike. Although the paint job wouldn't be my preference, it's great. And it was a bargain too, with just two nice lady owners to its name.

Once I've collected all the necessary accessories (military style helmet, the world's strongest lock and a full body fluro suit) I'll be on the road.

The next challenge will be to find my way to work, above ground.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The world needs more afternoon tea

As far as I'm concerned, there is a severe shortage in this world of cutesy tartlets, still warm scones with proper raspberry jam and clotted cream, and delicate finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

Anywhere that has a tea menu that's as long as the average wine list, is pretty great I think.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The aftermath

Clapham Junction one week after the riots

Goodwill messages decorating TK Maxx

Jamie Oliver's store suffered too. Someone out there will have some lovely new matching teatowels and a few sets of eggshell coloured mixing bowls.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Our house

I live in a magical house.

It's a home that collects strays and those in need of some peace. Through the bright red door they come, stepping into the house's strong and safe arms.

Walls of history are wrapped all around the winding staircase, wonky doors, creaky floors and the years of stories, laughter, tears, success and defeat which have seeped into the wallpaper.

It's decorated with love. Shiny brown tea pots and little Crown Lynn cups, rocky chairs rescued from the street, a gramophone that needs to be fixed, and laughing Buddha presents from the East.

Our coffee table is home to The Economist, The New Statesman, and Kate and Will's wedding edition of Hello. We have more herbal teas than you can probably name, and there's usually at least a few biscuits in the big square bread tin.

Here we sit, in the middle of Clapham, an oasis of calm and safety, in an otherwise chaotic, and sometimes quite tough, world.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London's burning

The terribly bourgeois nature of my Monday night was not lost on me.

There I was, drinking fancy wine in a champagne bar on the 42nd floor of a London skyscraper, watching bits of South London burning.

The sensation is indescribable when offices in Central London are closing in the middle of the day, and you find yourself on a packed tube surrounded by a carriage full of commuters looking just as bemused as you feel.

Exiting out of the tube and even at 3pm shops have their roller doors shut or wooden boards covering windows. Panic buying has set in at the last remaining newsagents.

I managed to find one open shop when I left home briefly at 7pm because I discovered I had no food. But even they were closing around me. The man practically followed me around the store, rushing me to make my dinner selection.

And then you sit in the roaring quiet, and watch the idiocy unfold through all forms of social media, the sound of sirens seeping through the open windows.

But what doesn't kill us, only makes us stronger. Disaster brings people together. Hundreds of people turn out at Clapham Junction with brooms to sweep clean; long-lost friends and colleagues reach out through email, skype and facebook to make sure everyone is ok.

As Alain de Botton tweeted this afternoon:

"The good tends always to outweigh the bad: it just takes longer to get itself organised"

Sunday, 7 August 2011

London snapped

I was on my way to meet some friends last Friday when I realised that London was waving her hands and trying to get my attention with her beauty.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Singin' in my soul

I'm constantly amazed at just how much music carries me away. Up, up, and away wrapped in a blanket of melodies I go. Whether it's a childhood Dire Straits flashback, or a more modern piece belonging to The Black Keys, each individual sound comes together to lift me up onto the shoulders of life.

I was reminded of this on a particularly busy but dull day at the office recently. There I was, at my desk avec laptop, ipod, headphones and itunes; secretly enjoying the fact that I was working in the middle of an open plan, subdued office, but also enjoying some choice hits from Nirvana's Nevermind album.

This then started me off wondering about what my top five favourite songs in all the world would be.

For me, this is a very tough challenge. I don't want my list to be faddy and filled with recent loves. I want some long term relationships in there too. I think the list should be made up of those songs that throw me up; making my soul soar with their beauty and musicality.

I think my music taste is fairly diverse. My ipod is the home to artists ranging from Amy Winehouse to Whitesnake; Ben Harper to Tchaikovsky. Maybe I'm not discerning enough, but I don't want to be too exclusive. I sometimes imagine the huge cocktail party that could be happening in my ipod with Cake making small talk with Jose Gonzalez; Cat Power fighting over canapes with Tricky; and The Hives and Courtney Love swapping fashion tips.

Anyway, back to the top five. I need to contemplate this for a while yet, and perhaps take contributions from the studio audience, but here's ten of the front runners who have come to mind thus far (in no particular order and please don't crucify me for terrible music taste. Exposing yourself like this feels a bit like one of those dreams when you've gone to work in just your pyjama bottoms):

1. 'Try a little tenderness' by Otis Redding

Others have tried it (remember 'The Commitments'?) but I still think Otis has the most soul. 'Sitting on a dock the dock of the bay' would be a close second for an Otis nomination, but I think this one has the edge. If by some miracle I ever actually end up being in the situation where I'm marrying someone, this song would be at the top of my 'first dance' nominations.

2. 'Heavenly day' by Patty Griffin

So beautiful I can listen to it again, and again, and I still never tire of it.

3. 'Teardrop' by Massive Attack

Gritty and elegant in one.

4. 'Lola' by The Kinks

There were a few Kinks' songs I could choose here, but I'm going with this one; maybe it's just the lyrics.

5.'Heartbeats' by Jose Gonzalez

When I first heard this version I fell in love with this guy after about three bars. His voice, the words and the guitar make my soul levitate and my heart pause.

6. 'Talk show host' by Radiohead

Pure artistry, and this (along with maybe 'High and Dry') is my pick off theirs.

7. 'True colours' by Cindy Lauper

Eva Cassidy does a beautiful version of this but Cindy gets the title on her rocking fashion sense and awesome hair in the video.

8. 'Hallelujah' by Jeff Buckley

Sad but sublime.

9. 'Let's dance to Joy Division' by The Wombats

This is a bit of a silly nomination but it never, ever fails to lift my spirits, and make me want to dance my way down the street after even the most hideous days at work.

10. 'Killing in the name of' by Rage against the machine

Exceptionally crafted angry music by a band that make me feel terribly old when I hear how long they've been around for now.

So there we have it. The problem is that already I can hear the beautiful voices (and melodies) of those who missed out. Surely I have to include Nirvana's 'Smells like teen spirit'? And for something feelgood, what about 'No rain' by Blind Melon? And I'm getting guilty that I've excluded Amy Winehouse....

Saturday, 30 July 2011

A time of change

Right now there is change in warm summer air. It seems to be all around me.

At home we're losing one of the Franconia ladies to North London; a soul I've lived with for three years now. My confidant, counsellor, source of hilarity, and number one chocolate brownie taste tester. So it's time to look for a new Franconia friend to fill the existing bright red and fabulous shoes of Eloise.

Outside of these four walls as well, change permeates everything.

Friends are at varying stages of pregnancy and birth; engagements are doing the round again; 'save the date's for 2012 are landing; new jobs, new careers, new countries to live in.

I don't know if it's just because I'm standing still watching the world, that I see what a rate it's passing at right now.

I stand there, on the corner of the Earth, fists clenched, eyes screwed shut, wishing everything would just stop for a moment. Just enough time for me to catch up with it.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A day in the life - part 3

Most of the time my work day starts like this...

Fruit 'n' fibre in front of my laptop at 8ish.

But very, very, very occasionally, work life gets a bit more exciting.

Here's my super funky, super German hotel room in Munich, we're I'm writing this. I just spent 20mins playing with the electronic blinds.

Friday, 8 July 2011

A Day in the Life - part 2

Now that my office has once again relocated, I'm back on the London institution that is the tube.

Any seasoned Northern Line travellers will well know that it's near impossible to get on a tube at peak time in the morning; that's why I make sure I'm getting on before 8am. To ensure a more pleasant journey. On at Clapham Common and off at Old Street. No changes; just straight up.

Metro digestion

From the ground up

Some days I quite enjoy my trip to work in the morning. I can read a trashy newspaper; blitz my book club read because I've once again left it to the last minute; or just stand and stare.

But other times, it's like World War Three. There is no etiquette on the tube.

Sardines in a tin

There are probably worse ways to get to work in the world, but on a humid, rainy Friday morning, when some guy won't move his elbow to allow you to actually hold your head up straight, it's hard work to think of them.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A day in the life - Part 1

London is a pretty great city. And because my existence here has always had the possibility of being pulled out from underneath me like a cruel trick with a bath mat due to immigration policy, it's time to really appreciate my life here. Three years of uncertainty grows difficult on the stomach. But Lady London makes it bearable in very many ways.

And so begins 'A Day in the Life'.

I'm sure not many people get this sort of view as they clean their teeth first thing in the morning.

Last week I saw three juvenile foxes frolicking in the morning sunshine. One of them was so excited by the mouldy old piece of carpet he'd dragged out of the downstairs neighbours' backyard, he was springing up and down on the spot like a tennis ball.

Monday, 30 May 2011

A right royal affair

Rather early on the morning of the 29th of April, 2011, four of us boarded the tube at Clapham Common, bound for Hyde Park.

Alongside thousands of others, we sat, and then stood, and watched the future King and Queen of England, wed.

Whether you're into that kind of thing or not, we all agreed, it was a very nice celebration.

We then went home to celebrate the day off by eating coronation chicken triangular sandwiches, and scones with cream and jam.

Life update

It's been a while I know. The last month or so has been a blur of wonderful family visits; a royal celebration; some weekends away; all four seasons; and quite a bit (but probably not enough) study stuck in between.

Life is ticking on as spring deepens and summer approaches the front gate like a very welcome pizza delivery man. The days are officially long; the sun reaching through my skylight and tapping me on the shoulder at 5am now.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Marathon de Paris

Before the 26 miles....

After the 26 miles.

We did it. On Sunday April 11th, a bunch of us got up out of our Parisian hotel beds at 6am to eat porridge and bananas, drink sports drinks, affix race numbers and get a bit nervous.

Accompanied by wonderful support crew we got on the metro and made our way to the Arc de Triomphe for a power bar and a pee.

Then eventually we got underway. What a wonderful city to run your way around. The sun shone down hard as the tens of thousands of runners circumnavigated her streets. Past Place de la Concorde and Bastille, then along the river with the Eiffel Tower in view. All the typical touristy shots but with an undercurrent of discomfort that eventually grew into pain by about the 19 mile mark.

But complete it I did. Along with managing to wipe five minutes off my only other marathon time which was both pleasing and surprising. No lastly injuries except for a couple of toenails which are threatening to detach at the next opportunity.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Marathon prep

Now we're getting to the business end of this whole marathon malarkey.

Today I purchased new socks, drink sachets and power bars that taste a bit like the kitchen bench.

Right now I think I need all the help I can get. Even if I know it may well make me gag 20 miles in.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Hitting mountain roads

In complete contrast to my barefoot run along the blinding white sanded Seven Mile Beach in the Cayman Islands, last week I got to run along the roadside of mountain passes in the French Alps.

In places the flanks of towering peaks were heavy with a thick blanket of snow, in others sheer cliffs fell hundreds of feet with layers of terribly scarred rock to appeal to the amateur geologist in all of us.

Fortunately for this runner, the roads were clear, apart from the odd manic Fiat driver. I could freely make my way past the untouched folds of bright white snow, with skiers in the background enjoying the last runs of the day amongst the pointy little pine trees, all set under a brilliantly blue sky. Just simply a picture perfect wintry scene.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


There's nothing like coming home to find a squishy parcel from one of my most favourite people in the world, patiently waiting for me.

Pretty packages contain treats from the other side of the world.

And I now have a t shirt with my sister's place of work on it. Not many people work somewhere cool enough to feature on a t shirt.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Running, running

Training for a marathon does strange things to you.

I've now got just under five weeks until the start line in Paris which in some ways can't come soon enough, but in others I'm really hoping it drags its heels like an old fat dog which doesn't want to go for a walk in the rain.

It will be nice to have my Sundays back. One thing I've certainly realised this time around is that it is practically a walk in the park to train for a marathon in the summer compared to the winter. Going out for a three hour run was much easier when it was sunny and 20 degrees, rather than drizzling and a high of two.

These past few Sunday afternoons I've stood at the window staring out into the grey, getting colder and more morose; trying to muster every ounce possible of my self motivation that is required to get out of the door and onto the footpath. Actually it's a bit like I'm now the old fat dog I just described.

Post-run brings some interesting results also. You'd think you would be really hungry after doing 18 miles, but I usually just feel nauseous for a good few hours afterwards. When I was training for Berlin my post-run dinner (once I felt I could keep it down) was Sainsbury's prawn makhani and a mini trifle. All that cream and custard sits nicely on a tender stomach. Now you also know how I became possibly the first person in history to get fat from doing a marathon...

Usually if I do a long run on Sunday, then it's not until late on Monday or Tuesday morning that the hunger really sets in. This delayed reaction means that my colleagues are subjected to my constant consumption. As a good multisporting friend of mine once put it - 'the conveyor belt of food'.

I think I also know what it might feel to be eighty now. Those hours after your return from a long run have you feeling like a skeleton. You can feel almost every single bone in your body as you attempt to move. Down onto the floor to stretch. Up off the floor to have shower. Down onto the sofa.

Why do it all then? It's a great challenge. And it's something that is just about you. It's not about beating anyone else, it's just about beating your own doubts.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The dynamic duo of darkness

Sadness and tragedy seem to be around every corner at the moment. Like a dynamic duo of darkness they hide amongst the pages of this month's book club book; in towns and cities in Libya; under desks at work; and even behind the bright yellow tulips on the kitchen table at home. And then, of course, there's the obvious playground of the moment: the second largest city of my homeland.

Hand in hand they swing from tree to tree, laughing in their sick and peculiar way as they go; leaving a trail of misery in their wake.

Every now and then there is a light moment: a good Spanish class, an amusing joke at work, giggles in the kitchen with the Franconia ladies. But then somehow (maybe by a look on BBC news, an email, or a comment) you are reminded of all the calamity.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The day the earth shook

Right now, a little country holds its breath.

It holds its breath and waits in the hope that miracles may appear from the rubble.

That from the devastation there will be stories of wonder and survival. Against all odds.

New Zealand has had a rough ride recently, and yesterday Mother Nature dealt that little South Pacific country a cruel blow.

Be strong New Zealand. Pull together and face this tragedy as a united front. Just like you always do.

Because we all know that not even a horrific earthquake will shake this country's resolve.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Sliding doors

Every now and then, just on the odd occasion, maybe when things aren't going so well... I wonder if perhaps I should have gone to Japan after all.

Was I completely insane to turn down such an amazing (all expenses paid) opportunity?

Then my train of thought takes me to wondering where I might be now if I'd not thrown it all away. Who knows where that path would have taken me.

But then, after mulling for a while, I (usually) come to the same conclusion. For whatever reason the timing wasn't right, so I must think about all of the wonderful experiences that London has given me instead.

Also, despite veering sharply away from study when I threw in the Japanese towel, the London road I'm travelling on has steered me back in the direction of academia.

Perhaps you can't mess with fate after all.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Silvery sliver of light

Last night I fell asleep in a moon beam.

Like a long strip of silk it floated down from Heaven to Earth,
tumbling through my skylight, eventually coming to rest
on my white cotton duvet,
and my sky-facing cheek.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

February blues

It's been difficult to think of anything in any way interesting, amusing or exciting over the last few weeks. Hence the long stretches of blog silence.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we're inching closer to spring, one day at a time. And even though this morning on my way across the Common I spotted a small family of daffodil shoots, spring feels like an age away.

Thoughts are constantly casted towards the longer, lighter days of April and May; with Easter and a cluster of bank holidays; a royal wedding and even a referendum.

February: I know you're a short month, but oh my, how you drag your heels.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Happy birthday to my biggest 'blister'

Right now, over on the other side of the world, one of the most special people in the world is celebrating 40 years.

40 years of love, light, laughter, live interviews on the radio, and a whole lot more.

For someone who started out destroying our parents' new wallpaper with jam men, alongside covering her entire self in cold cream, she's certainly come along way.

My big sister is one of the most talented, inspiring, energetic and amusing people I've ever met. Sometimes I'm amazed we climbed up the ladder out of the same gene pool.

She's the only person I know who has had Farsi lessons. She's travelled around more countries than you have fingers and toes; circumnavigated NZ by bike, had her own telly show, and once walked for three days, by herself, across a completely isolated part of bear country in Canada.

But for me she's the person who is always at the other end of some kind of communication channel when the world is hard work; she shares in success and makes bad things ok.

My sister is the best biggest sister I could ever have dreamt of. And my heart breaks a little that I can't be there to share the milestone day with her.

I only hope that in almost exactly nine years time, when I'm celebrating the same figure, that I've managed to achieve anything close to my incredible sister.

And I really hope, that on that day, she'll be there with me too.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Keeping it local

This year I've made a conscious decision to 'keep it local'.

Clapham Common is a great part of London; a green haven tucked down in the south of this sprawling city. It's a microcosm of different cultures and communities, all wrapped around the outside of this vast outdoor space that is the common.

Despite the fabulous features, it's easy to take it all for granted. In the average week you'll walk past the common to catch the bus or tube; returning home 12 hours later, barely giving it a glimpse. And on the weekend in the winter, you might even avoid its quite muddy surfaces all together.

But this year I'm trying to spend more time making the most of our collective backyard.

Every Monday I have a tennis lesson on its very nice, floodlight tennis courts, with a local coach and other locals eager to improve their backhands. Thursdays see me at the Trinity Church on the opposite side of the common, speaking bad espaƱol alongside nine others. Then on Saturday mornings I drag myself out of bed to run, jump, bend and lie on the common's muddy surface with a bunch of other local fools, while everyone else is enjoying a sleep in. And of course now that marathon training is on the schedule, I'm joining the others, circumnavigating this great space at all times of the day and night.

Our common is the life force that brings people together around here. This year I intend on spending more time appreciating just how fortunate we really are.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

And so it begins

Better late than never should probably be the headline for this post. The 2011 Paris marathon is on April 10th, and I'm registered to run.

Now that is apparently 12 weeks, 2 days, and about 19 hours away. Not really that far into the future, considering how far 26 miles really is. On foot.

Somehow, at Christmas time, as I forced another mince pie down, it seemed ages away.

But the fear of failure has finally hit, and I've now re-connected with my trainers.

Marathon training: day 1 - trying to protect myself from the 5 degree conditions

It's now been about two weeks and I'm slowly getting back into it. Although it still takes all of the willpower I can possibly muster to climb out from under my duvet at 6am on a very dark, and really rather cold morning.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Farewell festive season

The 6th of January sees the official end to the festive season. A bright and tasty light in an otherwise dark couple of months, it's a very welcome festival on this side of the world.

But all good things must come to an end, and yesterday as I walked home, I mourned its passing as I walked along pavements littered with forlorn looking Christmas tree skeletons, lying prone, waiting for the bin men to remove them. Their work is done here; they are no longer required. They are off to become wood chips.

Now we must dig around and find the boxes the decorations belong in, take down the Christmas cards from friends and family, and try to remember to buy a 2011 calendar.

"On with the new year!" we must think. We turn our faces towards the light of the ever-lengthening days, and think about festivities to come: birthdays, Royal weddings, trips abroad, visits from loved ones, and the taste of the approaching spring.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A dying art

Go into your average stationery shop here in the UK and you'll see walls just lined with greeting cards. Including some for occasions you haven't even heard of before.

You can buy the obvious cards of course: births, deaths and marriages; all the milestone ages, sorry you're leaving, good luck in retirement, Mother's, Father's, Christmas and Valentine's Day. But apparently we also now want to send cards for Easter, Halloween, St Patrick's Day, graduation, and when you've moved house too.

Publishers in the UK produce more than 2.6 billion greeting cards every year. And those of us here in Britain buy more cards than any other country in the world. That's an industry worth over £1.2 billion a year. More than we spend on tea and coffee put together.

Unfortunately, so many cards now seem to be just about the token gesture. Apparently we're too busy these days to actually write messages. Where did all the words go?

The other day, when I went into a large and well-stocked stationery shop looking for some lovely writing paper, I was very disappointed. There were a million types of wrapping paper, gift bags, gift boxes, tags, small cards, big cards, cards that turned into freestanding Christmas scenes, ready-made wedding invitations, place setting cards, photo albums, diaries and calendars, but only two kinds of writing paper. In two shades of white.

Do people not write letters anymore? Are we at such a stage that we require information instantly and can't wait for Royal Mail to deliver? Am I just terribly behind in loving things falling through that old school slot in the door?

I very much fear that the art of letter writing is dying out. It's going the way of dance cards and long-distance train travel. So this year, I plan to do my best to bring the letter back. Let's make mail cool again. It worked for cupcakes and knitting. Why can't we revive post?

2011 is going to be the year of the letter. Surely there are few things more wonderful than coming home to find a handwritten envelope waiting for you on the bench. You make a cup of tea, sit somewhere comfortable and then wrap yourself in another person's words for a few moments of time, their voice reading aloud to you; laughter, tears, and exclamations.

Please join me in trying to save something is really quite lovely. I just don't think we're really that busy we can't put pen to paper to brighten someone else's day.

Why not give it a go?